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How to negotiate your salary as a software developer

Oct 26, 2020 - 6 min read

This guest post was provided by Pathrise, an online mentorship program that works with students and professionals on every component of their job search. We have helped 700+ people land great jobs in tech through our workshops and 1-on-1 mentorship.

Today, Pathrise offers their best advice for negotiating your salary as a software developer.

When you are early in your career, salary negotiation might feel like more trouble than it is worth. Oftentimes, people feel like they should just accept the offer so that they can finally start working.

But, companies are expecting you to negotiate. There is almost always money (or some other benefit) left on the table that you would leave behind if you do not negotiate. A higher salary early in your career can continue to increase your value in subsequent roles, which will help you grow your net worth as you go through your career.

Successful negotiation can still feel scary, especially if you do not know the best way to go about it. That is why we wanted to provide our data-backed tips after helping 700+ people land great jobs and negotiate competitive salaries. Read on to learn our top advice for negotiating a salary in tech.

Today, we will cover:

Step 1: Never mention money or give a range

From the very beginning of your interactions, you should never give the recruiter a salary number or range. If you do, you will end up tied to that number, which makes it really difficult to negotiate at the end.

You might be thinking, “But what if they ask me?” And they might! If you see a question on the application that asks about salary, write, “Negotiable, within research.”

If it requires that you put a number, put 0. If the recruiter asks you on the phone screen or in an interview, you can say:

  • “I’d like to do some research on the average salaries for this role in this city before I answer that question.”
  • “I haven’t considered that yet. At the moment, I am just focusing on doing well in my interviews because I’m excited about [insert company].”

Most of the time, you can head off these conversations and push them to later in the interactions. If you are really being pressed, choose a very high number and explain you believe that is the market rate.

For example, you can say, “I think the market rate base for software engineers in this area is around $130k, so I guess my expectations lie around there. But, I will definitely do some research and let you know when it comes time. Right now I am really focusing on giving it my all in these interviews.”

Step 2: Do your research

Meanwhile, you need to actually do the research to determine the average salary for software developers in your city. There are a few places that you can look to find these numbers, so make sure you diversify. Try to be as specific as possible with your search so that you can get a good sense of what your peers make. Make sure you use the right job title and location for the role. For example:

  • On Glassdoor, the average salary for software engineers in New York City is $97,215. In San Francisco. it is $115,822.
  • But, if you search for software developers, the salaries are lower: $100,992 in San Francisco and $81,711 in New York City.
  • You should also look at other sites for comparison. If you are applying to roles at startups, you should probably check out AngelList. They list the average salary for software engineers in San Francisco as $128k.

Once you feel confident in the amount you’ve research, also factor in experience level as you construct a rough goal for your salary. If you only have one year of experience, your goal salary should be lower than someone with 5-10 years of experience.

Step 3: Come up with a plan

Remember: compensation is not just salary. There are other elements that are combined to form your compensation. Some examples of these additions are PTO, benefits and stipends, equity, signing and relocation bonuses, and more.

Big tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon are known for offering high salaries and good benefits from the get-go. So, when you negotiate they might not move the needle much on actual salary. That’s ok!

These companies do often have leeway on their equity, signing bonuses, and other benefits so plan to focus on these asks if they won’t change your salary.

With smaller startups, your first offer might have a lower salary. Therefore, focus on negotiation there unless they explicitly mention they can’t go higher. In that case, look at bonuses, equity, and benefits so that you can increase your total compensation.

We always recommend that you move the conversation to email, as well. Typically, recruiters will call you to give you the good news: you got an offer! The best thing to do is thank them and let them know you are excited, then hang up. Do not continue over the phone because you might say something you regret.

Instead, get the offer in writing and continue the conversation over email so that you can read carefully, take time with your responses, and get feedback from friends and mentors if you need additional guidance.

If you are looking for more guidance on how to negotiate, including an email template you can use, check out our guide.


Wrapping up

You’re now well on your way to negotiating a salary that you feel you deserve. Remember: do not offer a range, do your research, and come up with a strategic plan. When discussing your salary, here are some other quick tips:

  • Use “we” statements over “I” statements. For example, “How close can we get our goal?”
  • Know your minimal acceptable salary before starting negotiations
  • Avoid words about worth, i.e. “I am worth more than that”
  • Wait for the interviewer to name an amount first. If you are unsure about the amount, say, “That is not what I was expecting. I’d like a day to continue researching before I give an answer.”
  • Don’t hesitate to counteroffer

With all of these tips, you should be well on your way to confident negotiation and increased compensation for your next software engineering job. If you are looking for additional guidance on your job search, become a Pathrise fellow.

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